Niagara Region has just announced ziplock plastic bags have been added to the unusually long list of recyclables in our jurisdiction.
Because sorting is done using both optical and human resources, things like black plastic (from takeout containers among other things) can be recycled in Niagara.
In other regions, where optical sorters are the norm, black plastic can’t be distinguished from the black conveyor belt on which it sits. But our trusted humans can separate and recycle that, as well as plastic lids, and now, ziplock bags.
Due to upcoming changes in legislation announced by the Province, recycling is shifting to increasingly become the responsibility of the producer. That likely means manufacturers of recyclable goods will need to increase their financial responsibility from the current 50 to 100 per cent of the cost of recycling, which may mean they’ll be motivated to create fewer recyclables.
A discussion paper released by the provincial government states, “Currently, Ontario generates nearly a tonne of waste per person every year, and our overall diversion rate has stalled below 30 per cent over the last 15 years. Ontario needs to reduce the amount of waste we generate and divert more waste from landfill through proven methods like Ontario’s curbside blue box program, existing and emerging municipal green bin programs and other waste recovery options. Existing and emerging technologies are increasingly allowing us to recover and recycle materials back into our economy rather than sending them to landfill. This is helping us to better protect our communities and keep our air, land and water clean and healthy.”
This discussion paper is online, and is open for comments from residents until April 20. Visit https://ero.ontario.ca/notice/013-4689, or go to ero.ontario.ca and search “reducing litter and waste.”
The good news is Niagara’s diversion rate is 52 per cent, according to Sherri Tait, acting manager of waste management services for Niagara Region. The goal is “an achievable” 65 per cent.
As part of Earth Week, Niagara Recycling is offering tours of their plant in Niagara Falls on Friday April 26, at 11:15 a.m. or 1:15 p.m. Perhaps seeing how household products are reused and diverted might help you take the extra step, Tait says. “We ask that people register through the Niagara Region Waste Info-Line at 905-356-4141 or 1-800-594-5542. Participants must be 10 years old or older, and must be able to climb a flight of stairs.” She says tours are also offered to school groups and other organizations, and can be requested through the info line.
In the meantime, Tait clarifies what goes where. Regarding plastic bags and wrap, she says, “We accept stretchy outer wrap, packaging, any stretchy plastics, other than cling film (i.e. Saran Wrap). If it’s not stretchy, it’s not recyclable in Niagara.”
She says they often see plastic bags that aren’t bundled and are tossed in with blue bin items, which makes it all difficult to sort. It is requested that stretchy plastic bags be bundled into one bag and tied shut, and placed in the grey bin so they’re not tangled up with other recyclables.
She also says Niagara is still accepting styrofoam, which many regions now refuse. Tait explains, “We just sort and ship to other markets in Canada and internationally. Those places then turn the recyclables into other things.” Black plastic becomes shelving, barbecue wheels and garbage cans, for example.
“Step one is reduction,” says Tait. “Think about packaging to begin with, before you buy. Use reusable cups and containers.”
She says step two is to use all diversion programs. “The Region did audits in 2015 and 2016, and found that 50 per cent of garbage was actually organic waste [which can be diverted]. There’s still a lot of room for improvement,” she says. “An average of 13 per cent in the bags audited was recyclable,” Tait says.
The largest room for growth is in the green bins, also known as organics, says Tait.
“People just can’t seem to get over what we call the ‘yuck factor.’ We generally try to point out that you’re still putting it in the garbage, just in a different container,” she says. “If people are concerned about moisture build-up in the organics bin or bag, they can add tissues, paper towel, or even some newsprint to absorb it.”
She points out all that waste is getting diverted from precious landfill space, and being turned into valuable compost. The compost is in turn sold to landscaping and agricultural businesses, and is also given away to the public during compost awareness weeks in the spring and fall. “We just ask residents to bring a donation for a food bank,” says Tait.
“One of the misconceptions is that organic matter will break down in landfill anyway — but tests after two months show the matter is still intact,” she says. “The Walker composting facility turns it into compost in two months. They’ve done work at landfills and have seen that four or five years later, the compostable matter is still intact.”
A few products that people are constantly putting in the blue bin include propane tanks, which can explode, says Tait. She reminds people to take these to the nearest household hazardous waste depot.
Clarifying a few more misconceptions, Tait says multi-laminate bags — bags with several layers, such as pet food bags — are not currently recyclable, and belong in the garbage.
She says they also see a lot of furnace filters in blue bins, which can’t be recycled because they’re made of multiple materials. And of course, the ubiquitous takeout coffee cup: not recyclable. Tait explains these are another composite: cardboard lined with a plastic coating. These also belong in the garbage.
On the plus side, there are several things people don’t think to recycle, such as empty aerosol cans, with their lids off. Tait cautions they must be empty, and taking the lid and even the nozzle off can indicate this. Also, plastic lids are generally recyclable, but should stay with the container with which they’re associated — loose lids are too small to sort. Metal lids on glass jars, however, are not recyclable, and should be removed.
All lightbulbs are currently garbage, and if they’re broken, they should be packaged in a sealed cardboard box so as not to hurt contractors, says Tait.
When in doubt, Tait suggests using the “handy dandy ‘Where Does it Go?’ function on the Region’s website,” which allows users to type in any item and determine where in the waste system it belongs.
Finally, Tait reminds people landfill sites have end-dates, which means the space is finite, and using it minimally is essential.